Can we talk?

I was burning through Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book (One Beautiful Dream) a couple of weeks ago (very good, by the way!), but there was one place in the book that I paused for a minute to think, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Fulwiler was describing her regular conversations with a friend that lived locally at the time, and she said this: “We talked on the phone every day.” I put the book down. I thought for a minute about why that sentence sounded foreign to me, and a realization materialized that has been bothering me for quite awhile…

I rarely talk to my friends on the phone anymore.

When we are not hanging out in person, the trend is for us to text each other. I was suddenly aware of a phenomenon in my life that I greatly disliked, a pattern of behavior that had normalized itself within my relationships — perhaps with well-meaning intentions — and now dictates both the intimacy of my friendships and the frequency of conversations with those friends.

I thought back to a decade ago, before texting became standard protocol for regular communication with family and friends, when it was normal to have a phone conversation with a friend be part of my day. As I sat there, letting this realization hit me, I felt sad. I realized that I don’t like the status quo, and I would be willing to bet that many of you don’t like it either.

Now, I know some people’s defenses might be going up here, and you might be thinking: Oh, no. Here goes one of those anti-technology/anti-texting posts. Fear not. I find texting to be practical and useful for many quick points of connection in our daily lives (i.e., needed items from the store, double checking dates/times, quick answers, etc.), but I think we have definitely allowed quick connections to replace meaningful conversations.

Texting friends for a purpose that is text-appropriate makes good sense, but it has proved hard to prevent that format from replacing the need to have a conversation with a friend. The thing is…we have fooled ourselves into thinking that we are having conversations at all. Sherry Turkle unpacks this astounding trend in her 2016 book Reclaiming Conversation.

You might ask: Okay, what is the big deal here? We all lead busy lives, and we have a lot of stuff going on. Isn’t it good that we are doing these daily quick check-ins with friends? We are keeping “connected.” Isn’t that better than going a couple of weeks without seeing each other?

The big deal is this… When I text a friend to ask how her pregnancy is going, since we haven’t gotten together in a couple weeks due to her rough morning sickness, I am putting very limited parameters on her possible response. I’m basically saying (and she is basically hearing) that she is confined to a couple of sentences in which to summarize how she is feeling and what is going on in her world. That’s not a conversation (though we act like it suffices). I can text a friend a recipe she wanted or some other piece of information, but I’m fooling myself if I think that we are having a conversation about something meaningful and important by sending mere texts back and forth on meaningful and important topics.

The thing is…I love my friends. And I actually want to get closer to them, to know them better and to give them space to be known by me. And I feel that we women maintain a perpetually arrested development in some of our closest friendships with other women because we allowed our ability to quickly connect (which has its purposes) to replace our vital need for meaningful conversations.

So, I know that I want this to be different. Maybe you do too. Why is it not? If we are being honest, the thought of calling a friend often produces anxiety. We think: What if I’m bothering her? She’s probably got a million things going on; she doesn’t have time to talk. She doesn’t want to. Maybe that is the case; she may have grown accustom as well to the nicely controlled relational environment that texting-only provides. Or maybe, like you and me, she is desperate to have a conversation with you too.

It might be uncomfortable for us to unlearn some relationship patterns that we have let settle into communication norms in our lives, but it’s not impossible. The next time that you pick up your phone to text a friend, ask yourself this question: Is what I’m about to send inhibiting a conversation from taking place, or is it a text-worthy piece of communication? Then ask yourself this: When is the last time I had a conversation with this friend? You might realize right then and there that it’s the perfect opportunity for a phone call. To all my friends out there — open invitation — feel no anxiety about calling me any time! If I can’t talk, I will call you back…because I’m really ready to have more conversations.


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey